Terrible Tuesday Memories Linger 39 Years Later
I'd been outside playing in the late afternoon of Tuesday, April 10, 1979. I was a typical 8-year-old, but even I knew something was off that day. I didn't realize exactly what that something was, but even then I just felt something in the air. My mom called me in the house a little after 4, I think. A tornado had already struck Crowell, TX and Vernon had just been hit. Mom yelled at me to come in and help get my grandma ready to go to my uncle's cellar down the road. The tension was quickly building.
We almost waited too late to make the 3-minute drive down the road. The sirens sounded just after 6 pm. I remember seeing then KFDX weatherman Bill Warren on the tv saying a tornado was on the ground southwest of the city. Shortly after that announcement, the power went out. It would not come back on for over 24 hours.
We raced down the road to my uncles home and by this point, over a dozen neighbors had already flocked to the cellar. We were wall to wall and elbow to elbow in that cellar as hundreds of our neighbors just to our south were hammered by what would later be declared an F4 tornado. Though weaker than the tornado that had struck the north side of Wichita Falls just 15 years earlier, this mile-wide monster would claim 42 lives, injured hundreds and left 20 percent of Wichita Falls homeless. We sat and listened to the only radio station we could find on-air at that time, KTRN 1290 AM (now News Talk 1290).
In all, 59 tornados broke out that day. 57 people lost their lives in Texas and Oklahoma, including Lawton and Waurika, OK. The majority of deaths were in Wichita Falls. For years after the tornado, April 10, 1979, Terrible Tuesday as it became known, is what defined us as a city. We probably were not fully aware that that was the case, but it was. We were that city, the one so heavily destroyed. But we came back from that deadly event, a stronger and more vibrant community, but still haunted by that day for many years to come.
As time has passed, the scars on the landscape have mostly disappeared, replaced by new homes and businesses and healed by time itself. Virtually no one much younger than myself ever talks about that day; they don't really remember it unless they were in it, and even then, their memories are much faded. Many of the older folks have now passed on and Wichita Falls is, in many respects, a different city. And frankly, it's past time for it to be so.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Terrible Tuesday. Those who lost loved ones will feel it the most. Its a degree of loss this city had not felt before and has not felt since. I hope and pray we never have to endure such tragedy again. As I said, much has changed here in nearly four decades and still more needs to change, for the sake of our future as a city.
We're no longer defined by that day and we shouldn't allow our city's capacity for growth and strength to be held back by the events of that day. We certainly don't want to forget the lessons learned or the lives lost. The best way we can honor those souls lost to that storm is to continue to strive to make this city a place everyone can be proud of. After all, it is the City that Faith Built..and rebuilt in the wake of Terrible Tuesday.